The Nativity, one of Petrus Christus' most important devotional paintings, emphasizes the sacrificial nature of Christ's coming and shows the scene as part of a chain of events in the story of the Fall and Redemption of humankind. In the foreground, a sculpted archway displays scenes of the Fall as described in Genesis. Below Adam and Eve, Atlas-like figures symbolize humanity burdened by Original Sin. The artist's depiction of the scene is like an act from a mystery or Passion play, the figures clothed in simple Flemish costume and provided with a landscape backdrop of what, at first, appears to be a Netherlandish town. However, with its two domed buildings, it would be understood as Jerusalem, the scene of the events of Christ's Passion.

Christus depicted not only the historical moment of Jesus' birth but also the enactment of the first Mass, an image deriving in part from the revelation of Saint Bridget, which had become the conventional visualization of the Nativity by the early fifteenth century. The angels wear eucharistic vestments of the subministers of the Mass, though none wears the chasuble worn by the principal celebrant, suggesting that Christ himself is here both priest and sacrifice.


Marks and Labels



Señora O. Yturbe, Madrid.[1] (Franz M. Zatzenstein, Berlin); [2] sold 1930 to (Duveen Brothers, Inc., London and New York); purchased 15 December 1936 by The A.W. Mellon Educational and Charitable Trust, Pittsburgh;[3] gift 1937 to NGA.

Exhibition History
Petrus Christus: Renaissance Master of Bruges, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 1994, no. 17, repro.
Friedländer, Max J. Die altniederländische Malerei 14 vols. 1924-1937. Leiden, 1937: 14:78-79, pl. Nachtrag 3. (English ed., 14 vols., 1967-1976. Leiden, 1967: 2:104, 110, pl. 102.)
Friedländer, Max J. "Neues über Petrus Christus." Der Kunstwanderer 7 (May 1925): 297.
Baldass, Ludwig. "Die Entwicklung des Dirk Bouts. Eine Stilgeschichtliche Untersuchung." Jahrbuch der kunsthistorischen Sammlungen in Wien N. F. 6 (1932): 114
Cortissoz, Royal. An Introduction to the Mellon Collection. Boston, 1937: repro. opposite p. 33.
Frankfurter, Alfred M. "The Mellon Gift to the Nation." Art News 35 (9 January 1937): 10, repro. 11.
Schöne, Wolfgang, "Über einige altniederländische Bilder, vor allem in Spanien." Jahrbuch der königlich Preussischen Kunstsammlungen (Jahrbuch der Berliner Museen) 58 (1937): 159.
Schöne, Wolfgang. Dieric Bouts und seine Schule. Berlin and Leipzig, 1938: 23-24, 28, 55-56.
Vaughan, Malcolm. "Painting in the Age of Faith." Parnassus 10, no. 7 (1938): repro 2.
Held, Julius S. Review of Die altniederländische Malerei by Max J. Friedländer. In Art in America 27 (1939): 88.
De Tolnay, Charles. "Flemish Paintings in the National Gallery of Art." Magazine of Art 34 (1941): 179-181, figs. 7-9.
Duveen Brothers. Duveen Pictures in Public Collections of America. New York, 1941: no. 177, repro.
Einem, Herbert von. "Entwicklungsfragen bei Hugo van der Goes." Das Werk des Künstlers 2 (1941-1942): 167.
Held, Julius S. "Masters of Northern Europe, 1430-1660, in the National Gallery." Art News 40, no. 8 (June 1941): 11, repro. 12.
Preliminary Catalogue of Paintings and Sculpture. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1941: 39-40, no. 40Gift of Gary S. Davis.
Book of Illustrations. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1942: 240, repro. 37.
Schapiro, Meyer. "Cain's Jaw-Bone that Did the First Murder." Art Bulletin 24, no. 3 (September 1942): 208.
Friedländer, Max J. "The Death of the Virgin by Petrus Christus." The Burlington Magazine 88 (1946): 159.
Puyvelde, Leo van. The Flemish Primitives. New York, 1948: 27, pl. 51.
Paintings and Sculpture from the Mellon Collection. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1949 (reprinted 1953 and 1958): 53, repro.
Baldass, Ludwig. Jan van Eyck. London, 1952: 98.
Bazin, Germain. "Petrus Christus et les rapports entre l'Italie et la Flandre au milieu du XVe siècle." La Revue des Arts 2 (1952): 199-202.
Cairns, Huntington, and John Walker, eds., Great Paintings from the National Gallery of Art. New York, 1952: 88, color repro.
Panofsky Erwin. Early Netherlandish Painting: Its Origins and Character. 2 vols. Cambridge, Mass., 1953: 1:203, 311-315, 321, 333; 489-490, 2:pl. 249, fig. 402.
Bruyn, Josua. Van Eyck Problemen: De Levensbron. Utrech, 1957: 107-108.
Shapley, Fern Rusk. Comparisons in Art: A Companion to the National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC. London, 1957 (reprinted 1959): 7, repro. fig 3, pl. 105, 131
Broadley Hugh T. Flemish Painting in the National Gallery of Art (Booklet no. 5 in Ten Schools of Painting in the National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC). Washington, 1960: 18-19, color repro.
Snyder, James E. "The Early Haarlem School of Painting: I. Ouwater and the Master of the Tiburtine Sibyl." The Art Bulletin 42, no. 1 (March 1960): 44, fig. 5.
The National Gallery of Art and Its Collections. Foreword by Perry B. Cott and notes by Otto Stelzer. National Gallery of Art, Washington (undated, 1960s): 9.
Wilenski, R. H. Flemish Painters, 1430-1830. 2 vols. New York, 1960: 1:33, 524, 686, pl. 30.
Birkmeyer, Karl M. "The Arch Motif in Netherlandish Painting of the Fifteenth Century: A Study in Changing Religious Imagery." Art Bulletin 43, no. 2 (June 1961): 103-109, fig. 25.
Birkmeyer, Karl M. "Notes on the Two Earliest Paintings by Rogier van der Weyden." Art Bulletin 44, no. 4 (December 1962): 331.
Philippot, Paul. "La fin du XVe siècle et les origines d'une nouvelle conception de l'image dans la peinture des Pays-Bas." Bulletin des Musées Royaux des Beaux-Arts de Belgique 11 (1962): 9-10.
Steefel, Lawrence D., Jr. "An Unnoticed Detail in Petrus Christus' Nativity at the National Gallery, Washington." The Art Bulletin 44 (1962): 237-238.
Walker, John. National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. New York, 1963 (reprinted 1964 in French, German, and Spanish): 98, repro.
Gaya Nuño, Juan Antonio. Pintura europea perdida por España de Van Eyck a Tiépolo. Madrid, 1964: 22, no. 15.
Châtelet, Albert. "Sur un jugement dernier de Dieric Bouts." Nederlands Kunsthistorisch Jaarboek 16 (1965): 37.
Summary Catalogue of European Paintings and Sculpture. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1965: 27.
Cairns, Huntington, and John Walker, eds. A Pageant of Painting from the National Gallery of Art. 2 vols. New York, 1966: 1:76-77, color repro.
Schiller, Gertrud. Ikonographie der christlichen Kunst. 6 vols. Gütersloh, 1966-1990: 1:91, 93, 217, 322, fig. 202. (In English language edition, 2 vols., 1971: 1:82, 198, fig. 202.)
Cuttler, Charles D. Northern Painting, from Pucelle to Bruegel: Fourteenth, Fifteenth, and Sixteenth Centuries. New York, 1968: 129-130, 134, fig. 151.
European Paintings and Sculpture: Illustrations (Companion to the Summary Catalogue, 1965). Washington, 1968: 20, no. 40, repro.
Jongh, E. de. "Speculaties over Jan Gossaerts Lucas-madonna in Praag." Bulletin Museum Boymans-van Beuningen 19 (1968): 52-53.
Ward, John L. "A New Look at the Friedsam Annunciation." The Art Bulletin 50 no. 2 (June 1968): 186-187.
Whinney, Margaret. Early Flemish Painting. New York and Washington, 1968: 69, 151, pl. 37.
Blum, Shirley Neilsen. Early Netherlandish Triptychs. Berkeley and Los Angeles, 1969: 121-122.
Gellman, Lola B. "The `Death of the Virgin' by Petrus Christus: An Altar-piece Reconstructed." The Burlington Magazine 112 (1970): 147.
Koch, Robert A. Review of Northern Painting by Charles Cuttler. In The Art Bulletin 52 (1970): 204.
Sterling, Charles. "Observations on Petrus Christus." The Art Bulletin 53 no. 1 (March 1971): 19, figs. 37, 39.
Dogaer, Georges. "Miniature flamande vers 1475-1485." Scriptorium 26 (1972): 104.
Schabacker, Peter H. Review of Rogier van der Weyden by Martin Davies. In The Art Quarterly 35 (1972): 423.
Schabacker, Peter H. "Saint Eloy: Problems of Provenance, Sources and Meaning." The Art Quarterly 35 (1972): 114.
Schabacker, Peter H. Petrus Christus. Utrech, 1974: 25, 27, 29, 34, 43-46, 48, 50, 58, 60-61, 67-69, 74, 108, 114, 118, cat. no. 19, fig. 19.
Bruyn, Josua. Review of Petrus Christus by Peter H. Schabacker. In Oud Holland 89 (1975): 71-72.
European Paintings: An Illustrated Summary Catalogue. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1975: 68, repro. 69.
Lane, Barbara G. "`Ecce Panis Angelorum': The Manger as Altar in Hugo's Berlin Nativity." The Art Bulletin 57 (1975): 480, 484-485, fig. 15.
Pächt, Otto, and Ulrike Jenni. Die illuminierten Handschriften und Inkunabeln der Österreichischen Nationalbibliotek, Holländische Schule. Vienna, 1975: 65.
Upton, Joel M. "Devotional Imagery and Style in the Washington Nativity, by Petrus Christus." Studies in the History of Art 7 (1975): 49-79, figs. 1, 8-9, 17-18, 22-23.
Lane, Barbara G. Letter to the Editor. Art Bulletin 58 no. 4 (December 1976): 641.
Decker, Bernhard. "Zur geschichtlichen Dimension in Michael Pachers Altären von Gries und St. Wolfgang." Städel-Jahrbuch N.F. 6 (1977): 309, 318.
Panhans-Bühler, Ursula. Eklektizismus und Originalität im Werk des Petrus Christus. Vienna, 1978: 71, 76, 78-79, fig. 52.
Collier, James M. "The Kansas City Petrus Christus: Its Importance and Dating." The Nelson Gallery and the Atkins Museum Bulletin 5 no. 5 (September, 1979): 34.
Châtelet, Albert. Early Dutch Painting: Painting in the Northern Netherlands in the Fifteenth Century. New York, 1980: 90, 184.
Grosshans, Rainald. "Rogier van der Weyden: Der Marienaltar aus der Kartause Miraflores." Jahrbuch der königlich Preussischen Kunstsammlungen (Jahrbuch der Berliner Museen) N.F. 23 (1981): 61, 65, 94.
Eisler, Colin T. "A Nativity Signed PETRUS XPI ME FECIT 1452." In Album Amicorum Herman Liebaers. Brussels, 1984: 451-469, fig. 2.
Lane, Barbara G. The Altar and the Altarpiece: Sacramental Themes in Early Netherlandish Painting. New York, 1984: 59, fig. 37.
Pieper, Paul. "Petrus Christus, Verkündigung und Anbetung des Kindes." Pantheon 42 (1984): 120-122, fig. 6.
Sterling, Charles. "A la recherche des oeuvres de Zanetto Bugatto: une nouvelle piste." In Scritti di storia dell'arte in onore di Federico Zeri. 2 vols. Milan, 1984: 1:177.
Walker, John. National Gallery of Art, Washington. Rev. ed. New York, 1984: 122, no. 107, color repro.
European Paintings: An Illustrated Catalogue. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1985: 88, repro.
Hand, John Oliver and Martha Wolff. Early Netherlandish Painting. The Collections of the National Gallery of Art Systematic Catalogue. Washington, 1986: 41-49, color repro. 43.
National Gallery of Art. National Gallery of Art, Washington. New York, 1992: 38, repro.
Esch, Anke. "Het boogmotief bij der Vlaamse primitieven: Een synthese." In Dirk Bourts (ca. 1410-1475), een Vlaams primitief te Leuven. Exh. cat. Leuven 1998. Leuven, 1998: 174-175, color fig. 8.
Hand, John Oliver. National Gallery of Art: Master Paintings from the Collection. Washington and New York, 2004: 44-45, no. 30, color repro.
Snyder, James. Northern Renaissance Art: Painting, Sculpture, the Graphic Arts from 1350 to 1575. Revised by Larry Silver and Henry Luttikhuizen. Upper Saddle River, 2005: 142-143, col. fig. 7.5.
Technical Summary

Infrared reflectography reveals what appears to be a brush underdrawing for the main figural group. The contours of the figures and of drapery folds are defined by a long contour line which is sometimes repeated. Widely spaced parallel hatching strokes indicate areas of shadow. The wings of the two angels to the left of the Virgin were painted over the underdrawn design of the Virgin's robe; the presumed underdrawing elsewhere in her robe is obscured by overpaint. No underdrawing was made visible in the background or architecture.

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